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Law School Case Brief

United States v. Barrett - 539 F.2d 244 (1st Cir. 1976)

Rule:

It is true that unrelated criminal involvements may not be shown for the purpose of demonstrating that the accused had a propensity to commit crime. However, if such evidence is relevant to another, legitimate purpose it may be admitted if its probative value is not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of issues or misleading the jury.

Facts:

Arthur Barrett was convicted in federal district court of interstate transportation of stolen postage stamps; the receipt, concealment, sale, barter, and disposal of stolen postage stamps; and conspiracy. The charges stemmed from the theft of a stamp collection from a museum vault. At trial, three government witnesses implicated Barrett in the burglary and subsequent disposition of the stamps. The trial court refused to admit the evidence of three defense witnesses who could have provided exculpatory testimony, including the statement of a witness that would have testified that he had a conversation with a co-conspirator who made a statement prior to his death that he, not Barrett, was involved in the theft. Barrett appealed.

Issue:

Did the trial court err in excluding from evidence hearsay testimony that may have been admissible as a statement against interest?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The appellate court vacated the district court's judgment and remanded the matter for a new trial. The court held that the hearsay testimony regarding the co-conspirator's exculpatory statement could be admissible as a statement against interest pursuant to Fed. R. Evid. 804(b)(3), and thus admissible. Where a declarant was unavailable as a witness, a statement made by him that exposed him to criminal liability and offered to exculpate the accused was admissible provided that the statement was proven to be trustworthy by corroborating circumstances. In the instant case, the district court never inquired into the trustworthiness of the statement before deciding to exclude it from the evidence.

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